On this day last year, one of those last straws crept up on me. Peta and Mark had gone out and I was ‘doing painting’ with Melody and Amos. I was trying to deal with Joe, anxious and aggressive because of his exclusion, and when I returned my attention to the painting, Melody had cleaned the paintbrushes with my dish cloth, dried her painty hands all over the clean towel, then before I could clean the paint off the table, Amos had poured hundreds of Hama beads into the mix. It was a stupid, trivial, run of the mill sort of straw, but that was all it took. All the pressure from Joe’s exclusion, the space we had to live in, the girl’s school closing, options for Joe being offered and withdrawn, living day to day not knowing what would happen next – it all exploded out of me and I knew I had to do something. My children did not deserve the angry monster rampaging round the kitchen. Amos ran to his room scared and Melody cried. I hated myself for what I was doing to them. It had to stop.
I did two things. I ordered a spoon knife and a hatchet, and I booked four nights away for Amos and I, because I knew, if I didn’t make changes, I would not survive. Amos and I went away. I had never done anything like that before, I had never left the other children behind while I went away on holiday for four nights, I had never gone away for four nights on holiday without Mark. I felt so much pain leaving, but Amos was with me at least and I knew it was necessary. The memories are so special to me – the break away I will never forget, the time with Amos was so precious. But to the rest of my family, I think it was vital because I came back marginally more sane, marginally more able to manage; there were a few more straws in my coping pot.
I knew though, the effects of the trip would not last long and before I left, I had promised myself I would nurture something inside myself that had been compressed for so long. Once, a long time ago, I had a creative side. I had decided to set myself a challenge – to go to the wood, sit in the calm of the trees and create a spoon from part of the wood itself. I was embarrassed and I felt like a fraud. How could I make a spoon, use a hatchet, handle a spoon knife? I had a book like a true scientist, but no practical experience whatsoever.
That challenge I set myself proved a life line. My first spoon was clunky and… robust. But all spring, whenever I had time, I would leave the stress behind for a couple of hours, sit in the quiet of the wood and put my energy into first making a spoon blank with my hatchet and then carving the neater structure with my knife. At the end of the summer term, there were people I wanted to thank, people who were supporting me through what my family was going through, and this was my way of thanking them – I would give them a spoon that I had made completely on my own in an attempt to convey the gratitude I felt. And in that way, those people helped me twice over, because my goal gave me something else to focus on, a reason to snatch peace for a few hours a week in my sanctuary in the trees, a few more straws for the coping pot.